After downsizing to an apartment in Ballard, the author had to make some tough cuts to his Christmas collection — starting with the tree.

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We can’t have a Christmas tree in our Ballard apartment. Well, I suppose we could, but we’d need to jettison the couch. Maybe the TV.

My wife, Lucia, and I are among the many who have downsized their households in order to live and work near downtown Seattle. We must make cautious choices about how we use our living space. Anything that occupies floor territory must be both multifunctional and essential. 

That rules out towering bookcases and racks of audio equipment. Sigh. 

It also rules out a Christmas tree — even a Charlie Brown tree.

This new pared-down lifestyle is a profound change from our previous life in Delaware, where we had a house in the suburbs and a platoon of busy, angsty, noisy teenagers. 

In those days, we sometimes even had two trees at Christmas: a tall, fresh-cut grown-up version in the foyer, “for company”; and a smaller artificial tree in the den — a little wackier and tackier.

Three Christmases ago, when I was a newcomer to Seattle and smarting from the irony that here we were in the Evergreen State with no room for an evergreen, I went outside in my socks and poached a small sprig of green from the enormous Douglas fir that towers over our apartment. Lucia put it in a vase and wrapped it in tiny lights, and we each added a single carefully chosen ornament. A new holiday custom was born.

Once the Christmas branch was up and running, the next step in right-sizing my holiday was to rummage through The Box and edit my hoard of lights, ornaments, decorations and ephemera.  

This task reminded me that I’m not one to let go of cherished things, even when they’re broken.  

Untangling the tumbleweed of twinkle lights was like tiptoeing back in time. There were strands of standard primary colors and strands of pastels probably procured from some dollar store in 2002. There were strings of all-green bulbs and strings of all blue — a personal favorite — hastily bunched into grapefruit-sized galaxies. (No one actually stores their lights in original boxes, do they?)

There were cartons of ornaments that needed to be severely curated down to a handful of keepers. That meant goodbye, Frosty. Goodbye, Rudolph. Goodbye, Starship Enterprise. Goodbye, Mr. Spock.

Curating The Box is an ongoing project, but I found that a good way to offload decorations is to pass down some “heirloom” pieces to my children, sooner rather than later. That’s how it came to pass that I flew back to Delaware last November cradling shoeboxes of ornaments selected for each kid. I was surprised how good it felt.

The Christmas branch has reappeared each winter since we arrived in Seattle, and is now enhanced by some artificial stems. It adds a festive feel to our small world. We can’t exactly “gather around the branch” on Christmas morning, but it’s funny how little things can make a big difference. Even a stick in a jar.

The keeper ornaments we salvaged are given special display throughout our cozy abode each Christmas. An array of orbs in complementary colors hangs from the dining room light. Others cluster in bowls, baskets, terrariums, even under glass cake covers. Still others nestle in nooks and crannies, Easter egg-style. (Lucia says less is more, by the way.) Our stockings hang in their new holiday home on a curio shelf.

When I want the full-tilt holiday vibe, I turn on the high-definition “fireplace” (several versions are available via cable and streaming services) and cue up a holiday playlist (acoustic instrumentals, please — if I want cartoony carols I go to the mall).

And that’s how I learned how to have a merry little Christmas.